More than once during the ceremony, umbrellas appeared over the dozens of attendees as on-again, off-again rain sprinkled. But the ceremony went on and the sign designating the Horace and Mary Merrill Highway was unveiled to an emotional couple.
“This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Horace Merrill, former Cleburne County probate judge and circuit clerk, following the ceremony.
“In my life,” he emphasized.
The turnout to the dedication included state representatives and State Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, who had introduced the resolution to name the section of the Highway 78 westbound between Alabama 9 to the Calhoun County line in the Merrills’ honor.
“They’ve just made a great contribution to the community and this county and this whole area,” Dial said. “We wanted to recognize them.”
Mary Merrill, who taught and coached girls’ athletics in Calhoun and Cleburne counties for 30 years, was also a strong supporter of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Her husband spent 12 years as circuit clerk and six years as probate judge in Cleburne County. Horace Merrill was also an active member of civic groups such as the Lions Club, Jaycees and Athletic Booster Club.
Their son, State Rep. John Merrill, R-Tuscaloosa, who announced his campaign for Secretary of State in January, didn’t have a choice but to be an involved, model citizen with parents like them, Dial said.
State Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke, who lived for four years in Heflin when he was growing up, said he had kept in touch with his friends in Cleburne County including the Merrills. He talked about Horace Merrill’s work as a pastor and how that has helped shape the community.
“He’s preached many a sermon,” Laird said. “He’s counseled many an individual, many a couple who’s wanted to join hands in holy matrimony.”
Area residents also expressed their respect and admiration for the couple. Heflin Mayor Rudy Rooks said an entire city should be named after the couple.
Gary Harris, sports director for WVUA TV 7 in Tuscaloosa, served as the master of ceremony for the dedication. Harris said he’s known the Merrills since he moved to Hollis Crossroads with his family in 1973. He quickly became friends with John Merrill through their sports careers and they graduated high school together, Harris said.
“Obviously it’s my pleasure to be here and not just in official capacity but on a personal side as well,” Harris said.
Horace Merrill felt such emotion during the dedication he was only able to thank the people gathered and tell them he loved them. His wife took over and in a shaky voice addressed the crowd.
“I don’t know that I have ever felt more humbled than I do today,” she said. “Today we’ll never forget as long as we live.”
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.